Chateaubriand's memoirs, XLI, 4

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Mémoires d'Outre-tombe


Book XLI- Chapter 4
Madame de Gontaut – Young France – Madame la Dauphine – Journey to Bustehrad



Prague, the 30th of September 1833.


My letter to Madame la Duchesse de Berry indicated the broad facts but did not enter into detail.

When I saw Madame de Gontaut amidst half-filled cases and open trunks, she threw herself on my neck, sobbing: ‘Save me! Save us!’ – ‘Save you: from what, Madame? I have just arrived. I know nothing.’ The Hradschin was deserted; one would have thought these the days of July and the abandonment of the Tuileries, as if revolution dogged the steps of the exiled race.

Various young men had come to congratulate Henri on his majority; several were under threat of death-warrants; a few, wounded in the Vendée, almost all of them poverty-stricken, had been obliged to club together even to carry their expression of loyalty to Prague. An immediate order had closed the Bohemian frontier to them. Those who reached Bustehrad were only received after much difficulty; etiquette barred their passage, as the Gentlemen of the Chamber at Saint-Cloud had defended the door of Charles X’s room while the Revolution entered through the window. These young men were told that the King had gone, that he would not be in Prague on the 29th. Horses were in readiness, the Royal Family’s luggage was packed. If the travellers did at last obtain permission to utter hasty congratulations, they were heard with fear. The loyal group were not even offered a glass of water; no one acknowledged them at the table of the orphan they had come so far to see; they were reduced to drinking Henri’s health at an inn. The family fled before a handful of men from the Vendée, as they scattered before a hundred heroes of July.

And what was the pretext for this flight? They were going to meet Madame la Duchesse de Berry; they had fixed a meeting with the Princess on the highroad to allow her to see her daughter and son surreptitiously. Was she not the guilty one? She was idly insisting on Henri claiming his title. To express the situation in its simplest form, they displayed to the eyes of Austria and France (if France even noticed these nonentities) a spectacle that rendered the Legitimacy, already so far gone, a grief to its friends and an object of calumny to its enemies.

Madame la Dauphine understood the deficiencies in Henri V’s education, and it drove her to tears, as dew falls from heaven at night. The brief audience which she accorded me did not allow her to speak of my letter from Paris of the 30th of June: she looked at me in a moving manner.

Given the very severity of Providence, any means of rescue seemed lost: exile had separated the orphan from what threatened to ruin him at the Tuileries; in the school of adversity, he might have been raised under the direction of men of the new social order, fit for the instruction of a new king. At present, instead of employing such masters, far from improving Henri V’s education they were rendering it worse through the parochialism produced by the constraint of family life: on winter evenings, old men, poking through the centuries at a corner of the hearth, teach the boy about days on which the sun no longer shines; they transform the chronicles of Saint-Denis into fairy stories; the two leading barons of the modern age, Liberty and Equality, would know better how to force Henri Lack-land to grant a Magna Carta.

The Dauphine committed me to making the trip to Bustehrad. Messieurs Dufougerais and Nugent accompanied me in an embassy to Charles X on the very evening of my arrival in Prague. At the head of the deputation were the young men, they were off to complete the negotiations already begun on the issue of being presented. The former, implicated in my trial at the Assize Court, had pleaded his case in a spirited manner; the latter had just undergone an eight-month prison sentence for editing a Royalist paper. The author of Le Génie du Christianisme thus had the honour of going to see the Very Christian King, seated in a roomy calash between the editor of La Mode and the editor of Le Revenant